It was built on a bluff overlooking Vineyard Sound around 1900 by a wealthy mining executive and was one of the first structures on what at the time was a lonely stretch of beach between Woods Hole and Falmouth not far from Nobska Light. The history of the place rippled through all its quirky nooks and crannies. It spoke of the many families that had enjoyed times of fun, laughter, and the simple joy of just being together.
What became known as the old cottage eventually contracted into just “olcottage.” It was in that stately grand dame of a summer house that we spent a week in July to celebrate our 50th anniversary. There were 21 of us: children, spouses, and grandchildren.
All were delighted with the huge house and sloping lawn that led down to a private beach. My wife reserved it two years ago and it turned out to be a great choice. It had two kitchens, five bathrooms, three refrigerators, and enough bedrooms on three floors to accommodate all of us.
The dining room, with its enormous table, easily sat us all for meals, each family being responsible for a main meal with a night off for a catered clam and lobster bake. Like the drill sergeant she could have been, my wife was in the middle of what could have been a chaotic situation, giving orders and assigning tasks. It sometimes helps to have a bossy spouse, particularly when she is usually right. The place wasn’t fancy but had character and old-world charm. She might describe it as “early cozy.”
There was enough room for people to go off for a little quiet time to read, work on a jigsaw puzzle, or take a nap. From a shaded patio, you could watch the ferries come and go from Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluff.
The nine grandchildren were in the water before we unpacked and it was there they seemed to spend the entire week. Every time I looked out the wrap-around living room windows, they were either in the water or going to or coming from the beach.
The secluded setting made it possible for us to leave all our gear – chairs, umbrellas, tents, rafts and fishing poles – on the beach for the entire week. Each night we sat around a campfire on the beach talking, laughing, and singing, completely content with the place and the company.
The happiest times are those my wife and I share with our family. They thank us for our generosity without knowing that the greatest gift we can receive is the knowledge that they are happy and secure enough to cope with the inevitable sadness and disappointments that life holds. Those joyful moments, like deposits in a bank, can be drawn upon in hard times. They can soften the impact of a blow that otherwise might put you down.
By unanimous vote, we intend to visit “olcottage” again. We are now part of her family, those residents and guests who have been enriched by her gentle and warm embrace. She captured the hearts of all the mothers and grandmothers who have watched their offspring enjoy her bounty by the sea.
We are entering that phase of life when our grandchildren have their own agendas. Gone are the days when they were younger and a visit with grandparents would be a highlight of their week. Now that it is increasingly difficult to get them all together, we treasure those times. Their need for us diminishes while our need for them remains constant. Such are the cycles of life. In the words of a banner that has been hanging in our kitchen for years: “There are but two lasting bequests we can give our children. The first is roots. The last – wings.”
Let them soar while holding fast to the memories we share and will relive again upon our return to “olcottage.”
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.